Jesus said to his disciples: “What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father than one of these little ones be lost.” (Matthew 18:12-14)
Today’s gospel reading, which is quoted above in full, is one of my favorites. Even as a child, one of my favorite depictions of Jesus was one of a smiling Jesus carrying the sheep that had been lost. This type of personal (yet omniscient, omnipotent) God is, to me, the only one worth believing in. To believe in a God that is separate from or distant (i.e., aloof) from us is not belief in a God at all. It is a type of hopelessness wrapped in spiritual language. And yet, we often hear or read about people explaining their relationship with God something like this: I believe that there is a creative force (or something greater than us), but I don’t believe that it involves or concerns itself with our daily lives. Today’s gospel reading, for people of faith, is a refutation to this. Today’s reading points to the very foundations of a personal, meaningful faith.
Having established that God does care about individuals, the next piece of the gospel passage that is filled with hope is the reaction of the shepherd to having found the lost sheep. Once he has found the sheep, does he pick it up by the scruff of its neck and toss it back with the other ninety-nine? Does he scold it? Brand it? Is he indifferent, because such is life as a shepherd? No. Rather, the shepherd rejoices over it. And our heavenly Father, like the shepherd in the parable, likewise rejoices when his lost sheep (us!) are found. There are no reparations to be paid, no repercussions to suffer. We are held in a joyful embrace. This God is indeed one worthy of worship and praise.
As you proceed through your life during this Advent season, don’t forget to give praise for your heavenly Father who rejoices in you. If you never strayed, know that God loves and protects you, watching over you. If you have strayed, know that being found causes jubilation in heaven. Tidings of comfort and joy…